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Engaging Humanities

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation broadens horizons of humanities students

Innovative learning experiences, mentorship and academic support for students in humanities disciplines. These are at the heart of a five-year grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the UC Santa Barbara Mellon Engaging Humanities Initiative.

This comprehensive program enables incoming first-year and transfer students to develop communication and interpersonal skills — including analysis, cultural understanding, innovation and entrepreneurship — that are critical for success at UC Santa Barbara as well as in careers or graduate school. 

By enrolling in the initiative’s small-group “learning communities” or discovery courses, students will “connect, contribute, develop and succeed,” according to Linda Adler-Kassner, associate dean of undergraduate education, faculty director of the Center for Innovative Teaching, Research and Learning and principal investigator on the grant. 

“This is an amazing opportunity,” Adler-Kassner said of the Engaging Humanities Initiative. “It will attract students and bring them into the humanities by creating really fantastically innovative interdisciplinary courses that highlight the ways critical skills — communication skills, connections to citizenship — and career paths are threaded through humanities majors.”

These skills are critical to success in today’s economy. Education in the humanities and liberal arts fosters creativity, collaboration, abstract and systems thinking, and adaptability to diverse environments. 

The initiative also extends training and teaching opportunities to humanities faculty and graduate students, by way of the Mellon Pedagogical Institute, where they will investigate learning practices, craft frameworks for new courses and begin to develop assignments and activities for those courses.

“Engaging Humanities will enhance the pedagogical practices of current and future faculty and help them develop innovative curricular models to convey connections between humanistic study, real-world issues and rewarding career pathways,” said David Marshall, executive vice chancellor.

The initiative also will improve the pedagogical training of graduate students in ways that will prepare them for a variety of teaching contexts and expand their career options.

Added John Majewski, Michael Douglas Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts, “We are excited that this grant will enable our faculty to develop cutting-edge courses that highlight the growing relevance of the humanities, especially as our society confronts pressing issues such as economic inequality, racial polarization and climate change. These courses will highlight how skills such as analytical writing and critical thinking lead to rewarding careers and give students the tools they need to help change the world.”

Participants in the learning communities will have access to graduate mentors, and through their courses will compile portfolios that demonstrate what they have learned and showcase their skills and abilities for employers and graduate schools.

Students also will be connected to undergraduate research opportunities and options for broader study, such as the Education Abroad and UCDC programs.

An annual research symposium will enable all participants — undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and area residents — to learn more about how the program is contributing to and expanding the understanding of the humanities.

UC Santa Barbara is the recipient of other significant support from The Mellon Foundation, including the 2018-19 Mellon-Sawyer Seminar, “Energy Justice in Global Perspective.” English Professor Alan Liu in 2017 was awarded a three-year grant for his WhatEvery1Says project, which studies the representation of the humanities in public discourse.

The Mellon Foundation in fact is a major supporter of humanities across the University of California. Sending a strong message about the significance of the humanities in leading public universities, Mellon in 2018 awarded a $10 million endowment challenge grant to the UC Humanities Research Institute to support advanced humanities research and sustain core humanities activities on all UC campuses.